Genome evolution of a pandemic lineage of the wheat blast pathogen


Outbreaks of emerging plant diseases are increasing at an alarming rate threatening global food security. Understanding the mechanisms of pathogen evolution that underpin plant disease outbreaks is essential for designing adequate disease management strategies. The fungus Magnaporthe (Syn. Pyricularia) oryzae—the causal agent of blast disease of cereals—is among the most destructive plant pathogens to world agriculture and a major threat to the pro duction of rice, wheat, and other cereal crops. Wheat blast, caused by particular lineages of M. oryzae, was first identified in Brazil in 1985 and is now established throughout South America. In February 2016, wheat blast was first reported in the South Asian country of Bangladesh, where it caused yield losses of up to 90% and has since established itself as a major threat to food security in the region.

The Bangladesh population appears to originate from the introduction of a single clonal lineage of the fungus from South America, and this lineage has since spread throughout the country. In this project, the student will determine the genetic variation of the Bangladesh clonal lineage of the wheat blast fungus based on field isolates collected since 2016 and will compare the genetic makeup of this population to its South American progenitors. The student will then develop and experimentally challenge hypotheses about the impact of the observed natural variation on the virulence potential of the pathogen. This project will, therefore, combine computational analyses of genome sequences with mechanistic follow-up experiments.

The student will be based at The Sainsbury Laboratory and will access world class multidisciplinary training including bioinformatics, molecular biology, and plant pathology to successfully complete this project. TSL has a vibrant student community, linked to the University of East Anglia and the Norwich Research Park Institutes.


Latorre, S.M., Reyes-Avila, C.S., Malmgren, A., Win, J., Kamoun, S., and Burbano H.A. 2020. Differential loss of effector genes in three recently expanded pandemic clonal lineages of the rice blast fungus. BMC Biology, 18:88.

Kamoun, S., Talbot, N.J., and Islam, M.T. 2019. Plant health emergencies demand open science: Tackling a cereal killer on the run. PLOS Biology, 17:e3000302.

Islam, T., Croll, D., Gladieux, P., Soanes, D., Persoons, A., Bhattacharjee, P., Hossain, S., Gupta, D., Rahman, Md.M., Mahboob, M.G., Cook, N., Salam, M., Surovy, M.Z., Bueno Sancho, V., Maciel, J.N., Nani, A., Castroagudin, V., de Assis Reges, J.T., Ceresini, P., Ravel, S., Kellner, R., Fournier, E., Tharreau, D., Lebrun, M.-H., McDonald, B., Stitt, T., Swan, D., Talbot, N., Saunders, D., Win, J., and Kamoun, S. 2016. Emergence of wheat blast in Bangladesh was caused by a South American lineage of Magnaporthe oryzae. BMC Biology, 14:84.